TBT: You’ll Look Back and Laugh: Stories That Are Only Funny Because Nobody Died
Mike and I had what could euphemistically be called, “a whirlwind romance.” This is to say that everyone around us wondered what the hell we were thinking. You’ve seen Frozen? (You’ve seen this part too, right?) You know that bit at the beginning where Anna falls down in front of Hans’s horse and then they spend three minutes singing about sandwiches and doors and suddenly they’re getting married? Yeah, it was pretty much like that.
Clearly, if your courtship is 3 1/2 minutes long, you’re going to miss out on some of the details. Like holiday expectations, for example. You might make some assumptions that turn out to be less than accurate. For instance: you might assume that because your wife wears combat boots and has rainbow colored hair, and stomps around clutching a book of Audre Lorde poetry, she is just not that into Valentine’s Day. You might assume that she views it, at best, as the day a priest was beheaded, and at worst, as Hallmark’s version of Black Friday. Or the other way around. You might be WRONG.
I am all about the love, people. I don’t care who sponsors it. I’m an equal opportunity lover. So, imagine my surprise when I presented my husband with the gifts I had carefully curated for him (Don’t ask. I don’t remember. But I’m sure I selected them with the upmost attention.) and stood blinking as he said,
Uh… I didn’t actually do anything for Valentine’s Day. I thought you were like me. I thought you thought Hallmark holidays were a load of BS.
Wow. No gifts with a side of shame. That was Not.A.Good.Day.
Fast forward to Valentine’s Day #2:
We’re in Boston, living in a cupboard someone has misnamed a studio apartment. I’m in school at Berklee, a strange universe where twelve credit hours equals thirteen classes, not the four I was accustomed to. I come home from yet another guitar lab where all the boys (they were all boys) have been trading licks from Stairway to Heaven, and I find this:
He’d snagged our wedding pictures to decorate. He’d cut valentines out of BLUE paper. He bought wine, with a cork. You’ll notice a little black notebook next to the plate on the right. This was my gift. That red piece of paper on top says, “Let’s get back to it.”
See, when we first met we’d co-journal. He’d write on all the right hand pages, and I’d write on all the left. It wasn’t like passing love notes. Not at all. Most of the time we’d simply write out what was happening in our heads (I love Boston. I hate my job. I suck at guitar. That new tenant downstairs is kinda cute.) and though it was VERY VERY difficult to avoid self-editing, it was a really useful tool to keep us indirectly communicating even when what we wrote was: If I have to wash another dish I didn’t use, I’m going to lose my mind.
It kept us on the same, er, page, so to speak.
But we’d gotten busy. And we’d gotten scared. Because, as it turns out, being married is a lot harder than getting married. Especially when you have no money, no real prospects, and no role models. We stopped co-journaling because all either of us could really think of to say was: I’m worried I’ve made a big mistake.
But then, in the middle of the scary, Mike gives me this notebook. And even though it was completely blank, it was as if every page glowed with invisible ink saying, I’m willing to be brave for you. I’m willing to walk through, or fight through, or write through whatever is necessary to see if there is any way we can save this thing. And not only that; I believe you can be brave too.
Today, I knew I was going to write about that Valentine’s Day. I went digging through the closet (we haven’t exactly gotten around to hanging all our pictures) to find this big photo collage that included a pre-digital close-up of the table setting. I wanted you to see the plate. You know, the anatomically correct heart here on this plate:
I wanted to tell you about how Mike ruined Valentine’s Day, first by neglecting it completely, and then forever, by hitting it out of the park (with the hearts and the towels and the $.99 baby’s breath) so early in our marriage. I wanted you to see how clever and non-Hallmarky he was. Pretty funny, that guy!
But, when I found the picture, it wasn’t at all as I remembered it. It hung on our bedroom wall for eight years at least, and I was sure it was just a picture of the plate. But no. There was this damn book in the photo too, and when I tried to crop it out, the picture just got too blurry. So I figured I should mention the book, since it was all big and black and taking up valuable real estate. I mean, it’s half the freaking image. Why didn’t I get a closer close up the first time around?
Because the book was the point.
I didn’t know it when I took the picture. I didn’t know it this morning, 14 years later. I didn’t know it until I started writing about it. I thought it was all the cute, clever, anti-establishment stuff that was important. I thought it was the dozen versions of My Funny Valentine playing from the iPod, or the recycled red ribbon from Christmas. I thought it was all the TRAPPINGS, as non-Hallmarky as they were. But it turns out it was the writing, the writing – both then and now – the writing that brought us back around to the real story. It was the writing that saved us.
And it’s fitting, really. We set out a million years ago to build an artistic life. Ars gratia artis. Sometimes we forgot. Sometimes we forget. Sometimes we get distracted by the dish towels, or the plates, or the laundry, or the bills. Sometimes we still think that a piece of jewelry or a box of chocolates will win the day, forgetting that Valentine’s has already been ruined, the bar already set impossibly high, by a $4 blank book and the promise that we are brave enough to fill it.